Why did employers want a Level 3 course in Games, Animation and VFX Skills, and has it had the anticipated impact?
21 February 2020
By Amy Smith, Head of Talent at Framestore
Visual effects (VFX) and animation artists are a highly educated bunch! A recent report has indicated that 85% of the VFX, animation and post-production industry is made up of graduates. However, there has long been a lot of muttering in the industries about the ‘job-readiness’ of UK graduates, and it has sometimes led to a tense relationship between industry and higher education. Additionally, questions have been asked about whether it is truly necessary for such a large proportion of our workforce to be educated to degree level.
A lot of the tensions and issues have arisen, not as a result of problems with higher or graduate education but actually far earlier in the talent pipeline.
It has been well reported that the teaching of creative subjects at secondary school is under threat and that less and less young people are choosing the arts at A Level. Additionally, students are heavily encouraged to perceive themselves as either ‘arts’ or ‘science’ students, a choice which does them a huge disservice for industries such as visual effects (VFX) or other STEAM orientated jobs. Add to all of this a confusing and often lacklustre vocational qualification landscape, and it is no wonder that HE have felt an undeserved pressure from industry to turn clay into china. All of these factors have resulted in many undergraduates who are years behind their international counterparts in terms of their training and understanding of creativity, and higher education are faced with a mountain to climb to produce graduates that industry perceives as ‘job-ready’.
It was with all of this in mind that, in 2014, the VFX, animation and games industries came together to author a new Level 3 qualification in Games, Animation and VFX Skills. Our feeling, as industries, was that by capturing students earlier we would be able to achieve multiple outcomes:
Developing students’ skills earlier
It is often the case that UK graduates would be compared, by industry, with their counterparts from continental Europe. In many cases this comparison proved unreasonable as it is common for VFX and animation courses in Europe to be five years in duration as opposed to the standard three-year degree programme in the UK. Therefore, developing a Level 3 Extended Diploma qualification in order to help improve the skills of students moving on to degree courses in the UK, but also to provide them with an additional two years of study seemed a logical and immediately beneficial approach.
AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group were selected by the NextGen employer steering group as the awarding organisation to work with industry and develop the new extended diploma. AIM’s reputation for producing exceptional qualifications and their understanding of the creative industry, meant that they totally understood what was needed. The result was, an Ofqual approved vocational qualification designed to give students two years of study in a combination of art, maths, coding and vocational skills (crucially with mentorship, teaching and support from industry) that they previously weren’t able to access in any existing qualification.
As with many other companies and industries, the VFX and animation industries suffer from a lack of diverse STEAM talent. The UK Screen Alliance report ‘Inclusion and Diversity in the UK’ reports that just 34% of the workforce is female and 19% BAME. There are many reasons why this is the case, but it is commonly accepted that often, young women in particular, are dropping out of the pipeline for STEAM jobs long before they select their university degree. Therefore, by developing vocational studies at Level 3 we hoped to keep a more diverse pool of young people in our talent pipeline, while also hoping to expose young people to diverse role models at this younger age that might help them to perceive the industry as inclusive and supportive.
Developing a pipeline for talent
In tandem with developing the AIM Level 3 qualification, the visual effects industry in particular was developing Level 4 apprenticeships. It was important that, as part of our work on qualifications, we diversified and opened up the routes to entry to industry. An 85% graduate pool was not a mandatory requirement of companies and, we felt, could in fact be a deterrent to a diverse range of young people wanting to join us. Particularly, of course, the graduate nature of the workforce meant that socio-economic diversity was a problem that needed addressing. Having both a Level 3 qualification and Level 4 apprenticeships gave us an additional pipeline for talent aside from the Level 3 into higher education pipeline that we were also pursuing.
Impact on industry so far
Almost six years on it is really encouraging to see how far we’ve come.
We now have 14 colleges across the country offering the AIM Level 3 qualification with more coming on board all the time. We have students who have moved on to HE, apprenticeships and even directly into industry, and we are seeing more and more diverse young people coming through. Our latest apprenticeship cohort was 50/50 male/female and about a third BAME. There is still lots more to do but our goals are largely being realised and we have proved that working together as industries has had far more influence on the educational landscape than any of us would have had individually.